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Blade Runners blade runners*

Who but a nostalgic reactionary would take an interest today in the version
of Blade Runner that was originally released in 1982? With its anchoring
voice-over and happy ending, the lm appeared to retreat from posthu-
manist subjectivity into a humanist shelter, where the lines between human
and inhuman are rm and clear.
In the wake of Blade Runner: The Directors Cut (1992) and Blade
Runner: The Final Cut (2007), the impostor that has been on the loose
since 1982 appears to have little hope of survival. The real thing is appar-
ently here, unafraid to depict authentic posthumanist subjectivity.
To approach the earlier version of the lm in this manner is to ignore the
ickering of subjectivity running through the text. This essay oers, there-
fore, a reading of the 1982 version that draws out how, regardless of its
yearning for humanism, the lm baes the anthropocentric understanding
of subjectivity. I am not seeking to rescue Blade Runner in the name of
nostalgia, and my point is not that the version released in 1982 is actually
the authentic text. My argument, rather, is that Blade Runner frustrates
all attempts to limit its depiction of subjectivity to the space of humanism.
Keywords: Blade Runner; subjectivity; posthumanism; humanism;
Blade Runner has met its blade runners.
The arrival in 1992 of The Directors Cut of Ridley Scotts lm imme-
diately threatened the survival of the version that had been released ten
years earlier. Here at last, it seemed, was the authentic original that
would triumphantly retire the impostor that had been at large for a de-
cade. Here was an incarnation of the lm that was unafraid to depict
posthumanist subjectivity by making it perfectly clear that the opposition
Semiotica 1731/4 (2009), 471489 00371998/09/01730471
DOI 10.1515/SEMI.2009.022 6 Walter de Gruyter
between human and replicant is unsustainable. Here, nally, appeared to
be the real thing. No longer would there be a need to settle for second
best, a hesitation after a hint, a compromised retreat, a nal ight back
into the arms of humanism. The faint pulse of the fake became weaker
still when, in 2007, Ridley Scott unveiled The Final Cut, an even more au-
thoritative version of his lm. Time, indeed, to die. Who but a nostalgic,
necrophilic reactionary, it might be asked, could possibly take an interest
in Blade Runner in the wake of such excessively authentic alternatives?
Why favor the fake?
To bury the earlier version of the lm in this manner is crudely to ig-
nore the nuances of the signier, the ickering of subjectivity that runs
through the text. I want, therefore, to oer a reading of Blade Runner
that draws out the ways in which, regardless of its obvious formal yearn-
ing for the subject of humanism, the lm baes the anthropocentric
understanding of subjectivity (in which human and inhuman stand in sim-
ple, natural, hierarchical opposition to each other). I am not seeking to
rescue Blade Runner from The Directors Cut or The Final Cut in the
name of nostalgia, and my point is not that the version released in 1982
is actually the authentic text. My argument, rather, is that Blade Runner
frustrates all attempts to limit its depiction of subjectivity to the space of
1. Blade runners
There is not space in this essay to tell the tale of how there came to be
dierent versions of the lm. This ground has already been covered at
length, moreover, in Paul M. Sammons Future Noir: The Making of
Blade Runner (Sammon 1996), which relates how negative responses
from preview audiences in early 1982 led to the workprint of Blade Run-
ner being modied in various ways before its ocial release. The two
most obvious alterations consisted of a voice-over spoken by the protago-
nist and a more optimistic conclusion in which Rachael and Deckard es-
cape into a pastoral beyond. Although Sammon emphasizes that these
changes were not made simply at the insistence of the studio (a happy
ending had been discussed, and two dierent voice-overs had actually
been recorded, for instance, long before the previews), many critics have
founded their readings of the lm upon such an assumption. Robin
Wood, for example, reads Blade Runner as a moment of opposition to
the mainstream cinema of Reagans America. And yet, he ultimately has
reservations about the voice-over and the ending. Regarding the former,
he relates how it was:
472 N. Badmington
demanded by the studio after the lms completion because someone felt that the
audience would have diculty in following the narrative ( justiably, alas: our
own conditioning by the contemporary media is centered on, and continually re-
inforces, the assumption that we are either unwilling or unable to do any work).
(Wood 1986: 183)
The ending, furthermore, marks the eruption of a more general tension:
The more often I see Blade Runner the more I am impressed by its achievement
and the more convinced of its failure. The problem may be that the central thrust
of the lm, the source of its energy, is too revolutionary to be permissible: it has to
be compromised. The unsatisfactoriness comes to a head in the ludicrous, bathetic
ending, apparently tacked on in desperation in the last minute. (Wood 1986: 187)
Woods conclusions were repeated several years later by Richard Meyers,
for whom Blade Runners mise-en-sce`ne makes it a strong, endlessly
interesting movie to watch (Meyers 1990: 244). But then, suddenly, he
the movie takes a Damnation Alley turn in its last sixty seconds. Just outside the
city is the most beautiful acreage this side of Shangri-La. Rolling hills and lush
foilage [sic] abound without pollution in sight. The amazing stupidity of this nale
. . . negates all the rich attention to detail that went before. Blade Runner was a
collection of lm sets in search of a movie. (Meyers 1990: 244)
Like Wood, in other words, Meyers records a sense of regret that Blade
Runner ultimately retreats from its most radical propositions. Promises
become compromises; the voice-over and the happy ending negate the
challenging elements of the text and bring it into line with tradition.
The more daring version of Blade Runner to which criticism of this type
forlornly alludes would probably have remained an obscure object of
desire were it not for a moment of serendipity in 1990, when a 70 mm
version of the workprint was accidentally released to a cinema in Los
Angeles. The excitement caused by this event and subsequent showings
in San Francisco eventually led, two years later, to the release of The Di-
rectors Cut. Paul M. Sammon has meticulously problematized many of
the common assumptions about the relationship between the workprint
and The Directors Cut (Sammon 1996: 349371). Above all, he stresses
that the two texts are signicantly dierent from each other, for when
Ridley Scott learned in 1991 that what he saw as an incomplete rough
cut was still circulating in California, he asked for it to be withdrawn
and drew up plans to assemble a genuine directors cut for ocial re-
lease. Several key aspects of these plans, however, proved impossible to
Blade Runners blade runners 473
realize (a deleted scene in which Deckard visits Holden in the hospital, for
instance, was to be restored, but its soundtrack could not be traced),
which meant that The Directors Cut ultimately matched neither the
workprint nor, curiously, its directors intentions. The real thing, that
is to say, was faked.
It was, nonetheless, widely welcomed as the lost, authentic original.
Publicity posters, for example, announced the coming of The Original
Cut of the Futuristic Adventure, and this line has since been repeated
on video and DVD packaging. The Washington Times, meanwhile, con-
cluded that the lm achieves a coherent thematic vision when left to its
original narrative devices (quoted in Sammon 1996: 369), and Steve
Beard celebrated the original directors cut for its lack of voice-over
and . . . phoney happy ending (Beard 1992: 114).
I nd this approach problematic, and not simply because it ignores the
complicated history of the workprint and The Directors Cut recounted
in Sammons book. Above all, it assumes that Blade Runners formal ad-
ditions (the voice-over and the happy ending) succeed in stilling the post-
humanist potential of the text. It seems to me, moreover, that any critic
who invokes authenticity and originality as determining factors in a
discussion of the relationship between Blade Runner, The Directors Cut,
and The Final Cut has learned nothing from the texts deconstruction
of the opposition between authentic and inauthentic. I want, therefore,
to reread Blade Runner the apparently compromised lm for the
moments at which it runs free of its humanist reins.
2. Listening to the voice-over
Blade Runners voice-over appears to bring humanist order to a poten-
tially posthumanist lm by making Deckard the guide, the centre, the
privileged speaking subject. I think, though, that a close reading of what
Deckard actually says reveals that the humanist model of subjectivity is,
against all odds, disrupted by the voice-over. (Because I wish to engage at
length with Deckards words, a transcription of the voice-over is given as
an endnote to this essay.)
In the rst and fth of his eleven interpolations, Deckard discusses his
professional and personal history. However, as Leonard G. Heldreth has
pointed out, his use of the signiers killer and killing threatens the ab-
solute dierence which is intended to hold Deckard apart from the repli-
cants, for the blade runner eectively identies himself as a killer hired to
kill other killers (Heldreth 1991: 49). Furthermore, the fth section of the
voice-over reveals Deckards doubts about his role in the honoring of hu-
474 N. Badmington
manism: Id quit because Id had a bellyful of killing, he says, revealing
an inability to treat replicants as inhuman objects.
Heldreths point is developed by Thomas B. Byers, who observes that
Deckard consistently refuses to take refuge behind the term retirement
(Byers 1987: 330). Indeed, while the voice-over refers to killing on four
occasions, it mentions retirement just once. And when the latter term
is used (in the ninth passage), its inadequacy is recorded, for Deckard
speaks of a gap between the ocial terminology and his own feelings
about his profession. By refusing the anthropocentric linguistic distinc-
tion, by refusing to dierentiate at the level of the signier between the
lives and deaths of humans and replicants, by eectively retiring the
term retirement, Deckards voice-over begins to overturn the subject of
This continues in the eighth passage, where it is announced that blade
runners are not supposed to have feelings. Policing the line between hu-
man and inhuman, in other words, requires emotionless behavior. In this
respect, Deckards narration voices a curious contradiction: blade runners
ought to be emotionless in their pursuit of individuals who are deemed in-
human precisely because they are emotionless. The human, that is to say,
must become inhuman in order to serve and preserve the distinction of
the human.
It could be argued, of course, that a blade runner should be able to re-
tire replicants without feeling a sense of unease because replicants are not
human. And yet, the ninth passage of the voice-over, spoken after Deck-
ard has killed Zhora, further describes the protagonists anxiety. Again
refusing to subscribe to the ocial discourse, Deckard refers to Zhora as
a woman, and his repulsion at shooting a woman in the back is com-
pounded by his feelings for another replicant (Rachael). This emotional
response becomes even more extreme by the tenth passage of the voice-
over, in which Deckards elegy asserts the lack of absolute dierence be-
tween himself and Roy. All hed wanted, says the protagonist, were the
same answers the rest of us want. There is a common quest, a common
desire, a common condition.
It might appear that the nal passage of the voice-over brings about a
convenient narrative closure. I think, however, that it actually works
in the opposite direction. Early in the lm, Bryant relates that, because
replicants have begun to develop their own emotional responses, the
Tyrell Corporation now builds in a fail-safe device: a predetermined life-
span of four years. Although the narrative never fully explains how the
emotional responses developed by replicants relate to those of their hu-
man counterparts, I want to propose that the Inspectors comments pro-
vide a disorienting glimpse.
Blade Runners blade runners 475
Bryant clearly states that replicants began to develop their own emo-
tional responses [emphasis added], and immediately follows this remark
by referring to the imposition of a predetermined lifespan. It is possible
to infer from this that the replicants emotions are relatively inchoate
they are, according to Bryant, under development but could, in time,
become indistinguishable from human feelings (which are, of course, tak-
en as the vital norm). By limiting the life of replicants, that is to say, the
manufacturers ensure that their creations cannot pass as human, precisely
because inauthentic, immature emotional responses will always be ex-
hibited. Any replicant allowed to live for more than four years, however,
could potentially upset the opposition between human and inhuman
because his or her emotions would be able to develop to the point where
the Voigt-Kamp test would no longer function. Replicants, as one
critic has neatly put it, dont lack emotions . . . but only the opportunity
to develop them (Boozer 1991: 214).
This is precisely why the nal passage of the voice-over disturbs the
lms apparent humanism. In revealing that Rachael has no termination
date, Blade Runner cuts itself open to the posthumanist possibility that
Rachael will eventually become, according to the ocial test that polices
the border between human and inhuman, a human being. In its nal lines,
that is to say, the voice-over actually blurs the ocial ontological distinc-
tion between the two characters upon the screen. Deckard and Rachael
are escaping hand in hand from humanism.
I accept that I am reading against the grain. My treatment of Blade
Runners voice-over is not presented, however, as the authentic interpreta-
tion that will retire those accounts that have seen Deckards narration as
an attempt to centre, clarify, and assure the reign of the human subject.
What I am taking issue with, though, is the failure to look beyond
the formal presence of the voice-over, to see beyond intention, to nd a
posthumanist alternative within the text. However much Deckards nar-
ration wishes to impose a humanist framework, humanism is actually
wounded, left bleeding its own impossibility. The voice-over speaks of
3. Do critics dream of superuous unicorns?
We want the unicorn! I have a vivid memory, perhaps implanted, of a
fan of Blade Runner shouting this phrase as a group of us queued in the
blazing Californian sunshine to see The Directors Cut in the summer of
1992. The brief sequence featuring the galloping creature is, of course,
missing from Blade Runner, and this absence had given the unicorn a
476 N. Badmington
somewhat mythical status in the decade leading up to the arrival of The
Directors Cut. A collective gasp was heard in the cinema that afternoon
in 1992, in fact, when the great white beast nally made its entrance.
The version of the lm released in 1982 was not, however, entirely
without unicorn, for its nal reel found Ga, a keen origamist, leaving a
small foil replica outside Deckards apartment. In this context, the object
might merely and innocuously be read as Gas characteristic way of
signalling to Deckard that he has chosen to let Rachael live. In The Direc-
tors Cut and The Final Cut, however, the object takes on dramatic new
signicance, for it becomes unavoidably linked to the new sequence of
the unicorn running through the forest that appears when Deckard sits
at his piano, as if it were a memory or a hallucination. Does Ga, the
viewer of The Directors Cut or The Final Cut is invited to ask, have
access to Deckards memories, just as Deckard is aware of Rachaels rec-
ollections? Is Deckard actually a replicant with a manufactured and im-
planted sense of history?
I want to suggest that there is a sense in which the long-awaited post-
humanist fragment that exists only in The Directors Cut and The Final
Cut is superuous, due to the ways in which Deckards subjectivity is
thrown into crisis by other moments that have always been present in
Blade Runner. This is not to imply that the unicorn is meaningless or
that I was not thrilled nally to see it in 1992. (For the record, my heart
skipped a beat). My point, rather, is that the sequence is a blow which
lands upon what is already the rubble of humanist subjectivity.
There are, it seems to me, three principal areas in which Blade Runner,
even though it lacks the running unicorn, further baes the humanism al-
ready weakened by the voice-over: visuals; dialogue; and the meditation
upon photography, memory, and authenticity.
3.1. Visuals
The Voigt-Kamp test sees truth in the eye: from the response, or lack
thereof, to questions designed to provoke an emotional response, the
blade runner determines whether or not the subject under scrutiny is hu-
man. For Kaja Silverman, however, there is a problem at the heart of the
process. Because the naked eye of the interrogator cannot detect the vital
information, the Voigt-Kamp machine must represent the eye of the in-
terrogated individual upon a screen. But, Silverman continues:
[a]lthough that image is supposedly a replication of one of the androids eyes, a
salient detail suggests that it is more precisely a simulation a copy without a
Blade Runners blade runners 477
referent. For whereas Leons eyes are emphatically blue, the eye imaged in the
video monitor is unquestionably green. In the later scene in which Rachel [sic] is
given the Voigt-Kamp test, the video monitor again shows a green eye, although
her eyes are chocolate brown. (Silverman 1991: 111)
In one respect, these discrepancies might be explained away as simple
continuity errors (which remain, incidentally, even in The Final Cut).
Indeed, as Paul M. Sammon has explained (Sammon 1996: 107), the lm-
makers, in an attempt to cut production costs, decided to use generic
library footage of eyes for the Voigt-Kamp sequences. And yet, the in-
consistencies remain at the level of the signier, and to dismiss them so
casually would, in my opinion, be to deny a degree of Blade Runners tex-
tuality. The slippages are, quite simply, part of the text, and there is an
unavoidable sense in which they trouble the project of policing subjectiv-
ities. The Voigt-Kamp test, in short, is seen to be unreliable. Subjects
As early as the opening scene, it is clear that the test in question is cen-
tral to the diegetic faith in the uniqueness of the human. There is also,
however, a less immediate sense in which the ocular is connected to au-
thenticity, for a red glow appears in the eyes of replicant characters at
several points in the narrative. It can rst be seen during Leons interro-
gation, and its signicance is alluded to shortly afterwards when Deckard
arrives at the Tyrell Corporation and Rachael conrms that an owl with
a similar glow in its eyes is articial. Later in the lm, as he approaches
Tyrell, Roys eyes exhibit the distinctive light, as do those of Pris during
the sequence in which she applies her raccoon-like make-up.
In terms of the lms posthumanism, however, the most striking occur-
rence comes in the scene at Deckards apartment that follows the death of
Leon. As Rachael approaches the doorway of the bathroom, her eyes
clearly glow, and they continue to do so as she asks Deckard if he would
attempt to foil her escape. No, I wouldnt I owe you one, he replies,
approaching her and passing in front of the camera. In the following shot,
Deckard is positioned alongside Rachael, his hand upon her shoulder. As
he speaks, his eyes shine with a red light. The meaning of the motif is
never explained in the lm, and the glow is so subtle at times that it is
easy to overlook. I think, nonetheless, that it shines across the humanist
border that seeks to separate human from replicant, for Deckard is the
only human character whose eyes are illuminated like those of Leon,
Roy, Rachael, and Pris. What appears to be an inhuman trait actually
ickers in the face of the human.
Blade Runners fascination with the visual also manifests itself in the
Esper machine, a remarkable device that allows the blade runner to see
478 N. Badmington
things which would normally remain invisible. Sorting through Leons
photographs, Deckards gaze settles upon one particular image of a man
sitting with his face concealed behind his st. There would appear to be
nothing extraordinary about the photograph, but Deckard inserts it into
the Esper machine, which represents the image on a video screen and
transforms it into a three-dimensional space for inspection. Exploring
the photograph, Deckard discovers the face of a replicant, and the image
subsequently produced by the machine leads him to the club where Zhora
is working. Attempting to ee, she is killed by Deckard.
The Esper machine would appear, therefore, to be an eective device of
detection: it seems to work, seems to allow the blade runner to police the
border between human and inhuman. As Sammon has observed, how-
ever, the sequence in which Deckard dissects the photograph contains
strange visual inconsistencies. First, the image of the woman discovered
within the picture does not remotely match what is printed by the
machine (Sammon 1996: 411). Second, the woman depicted in both
the print-out and the on-screen representation is not Joanna Cassidy, the
actress who plays Zhora, but an uncredited stand-in (Sammon 1996: 146).
Moreover, as Kevin R. McNamara has suggested, the manner in which
Deckard arrives at the image of Zhora is somewhat problematic, for the
space within Leons snapshot exists not simply within the photograph,
but within a mirror within the photograph; the scene Deckard interro-
gates is an image of an image brought to three dimensions (McNamara
1997: 426). What Deckard sees, in other words, is neither Zhora (as
played by Joanna Cassidy) nor the image of Zhora, but the representation
of a representation of a reection of a double acting as Cassidy acting as
Zhora. The act of seeing which is so fundamental to Blade Runners
diegetic project of telling the dierence between human and inhuman is,
therefore, thrown deeper into crisis.
Humanism is further unsettled by the way in which Blade Runner is
edited. This is particularly apparent in the scene following Deckards
shooting of Zhora. The protagonist approaches and looks down at his
victim, who is depicted, in the subsequent shot, from Deckards point of
view. According to the classical Hollywood shot/reverse-shot convention,
the next image in the sequence ought to be of Deckard. It is, however, of
Leon, who has been completely absent from the narrative for almost half
an hour, and whose presence at the scene of Zhoras death has not been
previously announced. Although this is immediately followed by a return
to Deckard framed in a virtually identical medium shot a certain
disruption has occurred: the inhuman has been unexpectedly found in
the place of the human. In its cutting, that is to say, the lm cuts human-
ism apart: blade runner and replicant no longer stand in separation.
Blade Runners blade runners 479
For Leonard G. Heldreth, there are further moments at which a visual
connection between the inhuman and the human is established:
In the photography and placement on the screen, Deckard is equated with Leon
as the replicant appears in the initial scene of the lm. Deckard is in his apartment
studying the pictures he has taken from Leons apartment, and he is presented in
close-up on the left side of the screen, looking toward the right and studying the
screen of his computer, his mouth partially open. The pose is identical to that of
Leon in the opening scene in which he takes the Voight-Kamp [sic] test. Even the
stubble of beard is the same. (Heldreth 1991: 49)
This link between Deckard and Leon, Heldreth continues, is comple-
mented by the visual treatment of Deckard and Roy:
The nal confrontation between Batty and Deckard . . . best emphasizes their
unity . . . Batty breaks the right hand of Deckard, rendering it as useless as the
replicants own dying hands. Deckard takes his dislocated ngers, snaps them
back into place, and screams in pain. Then Batty pulls a nail from a rafter with
his left hand and also screams as he drives it through his right palm . . . (Heldreth
1991: 4950)
It seems to me that this particular visual equation is repeated at three fur-
ther points in the lm. First, during the Esper sequence, Deckard rests his
left st against the side of his face as he leans forward to study the screen.
As he utters the command Move in . . . stop, the lm cuts to a close-up
of Roy in an identical pose (although it is true that Battys right st rests
against his cheek). Second, during the chase through the Bradbury Build-
ing, the crosscutting momentarily creates the illusion that the protagonist,
like Roy, is biting into his hand. (This is merely an eect of the camera
angle, for Deckard, it transpires, is simply holding his damaged ngers
in front of his contorted face as he sits in the ruined bathroom.) Finally,
at the moment of Roys death, immediately after the dove is released, an
image of Deckard slowly dissolves into the bowed head of Batty. For a
moment, the two are merged upon the screen. In this respect, a passage
of Deckards voice-over that was never recorded, but which ends an early
version of the screenplay, is strikingly appropriate:
I knew it on the roof that night. We were brothers, Roy Batty and I! Combat
models of the highest order. We had fought in wars not yet dreamed of . . . in
vast nightmares still unnamed. We were the new people . . . Roy and me and Ra-
chel! We were made for this world. It was ours! (Fancher and Peoples 1981: 133;
ellipses in original)
480 N. Badmington
3.2. Dialogue
I have already shown how the lms extra-diegetic voice-over speaks out
against humanism; I want now to consider the ways in which contradic-
tions in the diegetic dialogue stall in a similar manner any attempt to in-
stall a humanist model of subjectivity.
At an early point in the lm, an uncertainty concerning the number of
renegade replicants surfaces. Ive got four skin jobs walking the streets,
says Bryant as Deckard enters his oce. Several minutes later, however,
he contradicts himself by stating that six replicants: three male, three
female escaped and came to Earth. One of the group, he adds, without
specifying the sex, was killed attempting to gain entry to the Tyrell Cor-
poration. This leaves ve replicants at large, of course, but the gure slips
again when Deckard is subsequently shown police les relating to just
four fugitives. This inconsistency is repeated at a later moment in the nar-
rative, during the exchange between Deckard and Bryant which follows
the death of Zhora. Four more to go, says the Inspector, to which
Deckard replies: Three. Theres three to go. Bryant explains that he has
arrived at his gure by including Rachael, who has recently absconded,
but this merely raises another uncertainty: was she included in the gure
of six mentioned by Bryant during the rst meeting? If she was, why is she
happily employed to work so closely with Tyrell? Why, moreover, is she
dierent from the other four replicants, who are all Nexus-6 models? And
why was Deckard not shown her police le by Bryant?
These questions raise the possibility that there is a replicant for whom
the text does not account. Blade Runner never explicitly states that this
mysterious gure is Deckard, of course, but I think that it is unable to
dismiss the possibility, particularly when the other troubling factors that
this essay is mapping are taken into account. The humanist attempt to
catalogue the replicants, to police the boundaries of subjectivity with a
strict system of classication, cannot be realized: the vital list, together
with Deckards task, remains open to an unknown factor. There is a space
that cannot be lled, a gure that cannot be made present, a perhaps that
cannot be driven out.
The shock of this perhaps is compounded by a series of remarks
directed by various characters towards Deckard. Each of the four appar-
ently inconsequential comments to which I wish to turn contributes, I
want to propose, to the wider waning of Deckards humanism. First,
when Deckard confronts Zhora at the nightclub, he asks about her condi-
tions of employment. Somewhat bemused, Zhora asks: Are you for real?
The second and third remarks occur when Deckard is chasing Roy, who
calls out a series of taunts, including Arent you the good man? and
Blade Runners blade runners 481
Come on, Deckard show me what youre made of. Finally, as Deck-
ard sits on the rooftop, reecting upon Roys demise, Ga arrives in his
spinner and says: Youve done a mans job, sir. There is, of course, a
sense in which these sentences have absolutely straightforward meanings.
I think, however, that there is another way to read them. Particularly
when they are considered alongside the ways in which the inconsistencies
in Blade Runners dialogue trouble the texts humanism, these four
phrases connote a questioning of Deckards subjectivity. Quite simply,
the audience cannot be sure if he is real, the good man, what he is
made of, or if he is actually a replicant doing a mans job.
These doubts reach a peak of intensity when a heated exchange
between Deckard and Rachael quite simply stalls after she asks him if he
has ever taken the Voigt-Kamp test. In the novel upon which the lm is
loosely based, Deckard is asked the same question:
This test you want to give me. Her voice, now, had begun to return. Have you
taken it?
Yes. He nodded. A long, long time ago; when I rst started with the
Maybe thats a false memory. Dont androids sometimes go around with false
Rick said, My superiors know about the test. Its mandatory.
Maybe there was once a human who looked like you, and somewhere along the
line you killed him and took his place. And your superiors dont know. She
smiled. As if inviting him to agree. (Dick 1972: 79)
In the lm, however, Deckard provides no answer: Rachael approaches,
waiting for the vital reply, but discovers that he has fallen asleep or
passed out. Another perhaps has arisen. Deckards silence is the knell of
3.3. Memory, photography, authenticity
When Deckard fails to respond to Rachaels question, she crosses the
room to his piano, where the camera settles upon an array of photo-
graphs. I want to suggest that this movement, this stepping from doubt
to photography, is neither innocent nor isolated; on the contrary, it
makes literal in the form of a smooth tracking shot that connects the
two elements of the most striking ways in which Blade Runner
develops a posthumanist approach to subjectivity.
482 N. Badmington
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes declares a photograph to be a
certicate of presence (Barthes 1984: 87). Because it is literally an ema-
nation of the referent (1984: 80), a photographic image never lies: or
rather, it can lie as to the meaning of the thing, being by nature tenden-
tious, never as to its existence (1984: 87). Its function is not to call up
the past . . . but to attest that what I see has indeed existed (1984: 82).
Photography, in other words, embodies and authenticates history, and
this is precisely how it is intended to operate for several of the characters
in Blade Runner.
When Deckard informs Rachael that she is a replicant, her response is
to produce a photograph: Look, she says, its me with my mother. This
is a decidedly Barthesian move, for one of Camera Lucidas obsessions is
a (withheld) photograph of the authors mother as a young girl. Although
death has made her absent, Barthes mother is deemed once to have lived,
once to have been present, because she is the subject of a photograph.
The picture has what Barthes calls a power of authentication (1984:
89); it conrms that memories are real and not mere fantasies. Rachael
places a similar trust in photography, for, if the image depicts her as a
child with her mother, she argues, she cannot possibly be a replicant.
Blade Runner makes this faith memorably visible with what Elissa
Marder has neatly called the moving still (Marder 1991). Distressed by
Deckards refusal to believe in the image, Rachael discards the photo-
graph and rushes from the apartment. As Deckard examines the object,
the characters depicted suddenly move, and the sound of children playing
is heard. Deckards insistence that the photograph is meaningless nds it-
self undermined at this moment, for, while Rachaels Barthesian beliefs
are dismissed by Deckard, the photograph, in keeping with the proposi-
tions of Camera Lucida, is seen to have the power to move. It is striking,
moreover, that the image comes to life when the photograph is seen from
Deckards perspective. What is the ontological status of this particular
shot? Why does it move (for) him? What possible attachment could he
have to the image? Could it perhaps trigger a memory, a memory that
he ought not to possess if he is human? If one of his own recollections
somehow resembles that of a replicants implant, then how can the blade
runners subjectivity escape suspicion?
The lm acknowledges these questions, in fact, for the moving still
drives Deckard to think further about the status of photography. Leons
pictures had to be as phoney as Rachaels, he muses. I didnt know why
a replicant would collect photos. Maybe they were like Rachael they
needed memories. Several minutes later, Deckard is shown at the piano,
surrounded by photographs that belong to neither Rachael nor Leon. For
Elissa Marder, this scene has radical implications:
Blade Runners blade runners 483
We must assume that Deckard has retrieved his personal collection of family
photographs. Whatever Deckard saw when he looked at the image of Rachels
[sic] mother provokes him to look for his photographic memories. But from the
fragmented unrelated images that lie on the piano in front of him, we understand
that Deckards family photographs no more belong to him than Rachels photo
belonged to her. Many of the photos that Deckard retrieves appear to date from
the nineteenth century a time that he could never remember personally a
time that was never his photos of people he never knew. (Marder 1991: 101)
Deckards realization that Rachael experiences authenticity in what he
knows to be fake has provoked, in other words, a turn towards his own
certicate[s] of presence, to return to Barthes phrase. If Rachaels
photographs are able to depict that which can never have been, then
Deckards own snapshots and memories (and the relationship between
the two) are shot through with doubt. His pictures may actually be certif-
icates of absence. However much a photograph moves, it need not have a
referent, a real presence that it represents and reassures. The camera can
Elissa Marder also draws attention to Deckards initial response to Ra-
chaels photograph, noting that he follows his refusal to accept or look at
the picture by launch[ing] into an interrogation . . . that closely parallels
the structure of the [Voigt-Kamp] empathy test (1991: 99). The tale of
childhood sexuality subsequently narrated by Deckard is not, Marder
proposes, extracted from the collective memory banks out of which
Rachels implants were taken, for such an event would not have been
narrated . . . [and hence] appropriated by the Tyrell Corporation (1991:
99). This private memory, she concludes, can only belong to Deckard,
and is invoked as a means to construct a dierence between himself (as
human) and Rachel (as android) (1991: 99). This, of course, does not
account for Rachaels intervention into the second story recounted by
Deckard the narrative of the spider and Marder adds:
If this memory once belonged to Deckard, once Rachel tells it, Deckards private
memory no longer belongs to him. It is no longer his in the sense that this mem-
ory no longer uniquely remembers him his memories no longer unite discrete
bits of a private, personal past into a unied entity, an I named Deckard. As Ra-
chel remembers this past for him she dismembers him and dispossess [sic] him
of his I. (Marder 1991: 101)
This still does not address how Rachael is able to intervene, to contribute
to the narration of the memory; Marder acknowledges that the story of
the spider is a shared memory (1991: 100), but fails to pursue the impli-
cations of this. I want to suggest, in fact, that there is a more radical read-
484 N. Badmington
ing of the scene in question, and I am particularly interested in one word
spoken by Deckard in the following exchange:
RACHAEL: You think Im a replicant, dont you. [Oering a photograph] Look
its me with my mother.
DECKARD: Yeah? [Roughly, angrily removing his overcoat and jacket] Remem-
ber when you were six? You and your brother snuck into an empty building
through a basement window you were going to play Doctor. He showed you
his, and when it got to be your turn, you chickened and ran. Remember that? You
ever tell anybody that? Your mother? Tyrell? Anybody? You remember the spider
that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs. Watched her
build a web all summer, then one day there was a big egg in it. The egg hatched
. . .
RACHAEL: . . . the egg hatched . . .
RACHAEL: . . . and a hundred baby spiders came out, and they ate her.
DECKARD: Implants. Those arent your memories, theyre somebody elses,
theyre Tyrells nieces.
I am haunted by Deckards second use of the signier Yeah in this con-
versation, and I want to suggest that it is possible to interpret the inter-
ruption as an interruption of his apparently human subjectivity. What if
he knows the memory in question because it is also one of his private
recollections? What if the Yeah is Deckards acknowledgment of his
possession of memory implants?
This is, I realize, a fairly provocative claim to make, but there is textual
evidence to support my assertion. When Deckard subjects Rachael to the
Voigt-Kamp test, he is forced to ask more than 100 questions before
reaching a verdict. The lm only shows the rst four and nal enquiries,
however, and the passage of time is signied by a conventional visual and
aural dissolve. In the visual register, a close-up of Rachael exhaling ciga-
rette smoke dissolves to a long shot of the room and subsequently to a
close-up of Deckard asking the nal question. Aurally, matters are more
intriguing. As the rst visual dissolve occurs, Rachaels response to the
question concerning the image of a naked woman is overlaid with an ex-
tremely faint fragment of dialogue, spoken by Deckard, for which there is
no accompanying image. What he actually says . . . bush outside your
window . . . orange body, green legs is, of course, an integral part of
the story of the spider which he later relates to Rachael in order to prove
that she is a replicant, and its ghostly presence at the earlier confrontation
between the two characters is a little puzzling.
Blade runners are not the authors of the questions they pose during the
Voigt-Kamp test Holden tells Leon that theyre written down for
Blade Runners blade runners 485
me in the opening sequence and it is possible to conclude from this
that Deckard might not have been aware of the questions prior to the in-
terrogation itself. (He does, after all, read them, implying that they are
not committed to, or implanted in, memory.) I want to suggest that this
particular Voigt-Kamp test presumably, due to his temporary retire-
ment from the profession, the rst that Deckard has performed in some
time prompts the protagonist to question his own memories. What if,
that is to say, as he asks the question about the spider during the Voigt-
Kamp test, he realizes that it echoes one of his own private memories?
In the later scene, where he informs Rachael that her memories are im-
plants, he is clearly distressed about something, as both his tone of voice
and mannerisms reveal. Has he detected the possibility that he is not hu-
man? Have his questions questioned his subjectivity?
I am not proposing that Blade Runner insists that Deckard is a repli-
cant with the same memories as Rachael, but I do think that yet another
perhaps is raised, and this represents a further blow to the humanist
framework within which Blade Runner formally seeks to remain. The
lm cannot completely realize its humanism; Deckards secure position
at the centre of things is troubled by an irrepressible posthumanism. It is
not that the protagonist consciously misleads the viewer like the narrator
of Agatha Christies The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Christie 1957); it
may be, rather, that fundamental knowledge about Deckard is unknown
and inaccessible to Deckard himself. Although his name, as Kevin
McCarron has observed (McCarron 1995: 264), recalls that of Descartes,
Deckard cannot occupy the humanist subject position claimed by the
Cartesian cogito.
4. Its too late to stop now
What if there were no happy ending?
As is well known, the pastoral footage in Blade Runners closing scene
consists of out-takes from The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980). Kaja
Silverman has cleverly subjected these images to the logic of Blade
Runner itself:
This conclusion thus works not only to problematize further the notion of the
natural, but to extend Blade Runners critique of referentiality to its own nal
images, which constitute a literal implant. The 1982 ending consequently provides
the moment at which the lm most emphatically asserts its own derivativeness
the moment, that is, at which it aligns itself most profoundly and movingly with
its all-too-human replicants. (Silverman 1991: 130)
486 N. Badmington
At the moment when Blade Runner seeks happily to seal itself into a co-
herent whole, in other words, it is driven to turn away from itself towards
another text. It steals as it seals, and, in doing so, it splits itself apart. The
Shining glitters within Blade Runners conclusion as the mark of intertex-
tuality, of the invasion of the outside into the inside.
As the rst verdant image appears in the nal sequence, moreover, clas-
sically romantic music in a major key is heard on the soundtrack. While
the viewer watches Deckard and Rachael smile at each other, and listens
to the formers optimistic words, the uplifting music continues, suggesting
a sense of contentment. However, when Deckard nishes his speech, the
pastoral beauty fades to black and, as the credits begin, the score abruptly
shifts in mood: the soft melody is replaced by a menacing theme in a mi-
nor key, as if the implant identied by Silverman suddenly fails, plung-
ing the lm back into the darkness and uncertainty which has dominated
the entire narrative. The note upon which Blade Runner ends is inconclu-
sive, ambiguous, threatening.
This, I think, is perfectly symptomatic, for Blade Runners happy
ending has no hope of keeping the text within the space of humanism.
I have already discussed how the words that Deckard speaks in the
voice-over that accompanies this scene work against anthropocentrism,
and it seems to me that the humanist understanding of subjectivity looks
even less convincing when the turn to The Shining and the change from
major to minor keys are also taken into account. I cannot see, more-
over, how humanism could ever be rescued in Blade Runners nal reel,
for too many cuts have already been made in the border that traditionally
holds human and inhuman in binary opposition. In the end, humanism
has no place in the sunset. In the end, Blade Runner outruns its blade
* For their comments on an earlier version of this essay, I am grateful to Catherine
Belsey, Diane Elam, Iain Morland, Rhys Tranter, and Thomas Vargish.
1. For reasons of convenience, all references in this essay simply to Blade Runner are to the
version of the lm released in 1982. The 1992 and 2007 incarnations will always be
referred to as The Directors Cut and The Final Cut, respectively.
2. Transcription of voice-over
a. Opposite the sushi bar
They dont advertise for killers in a newspaper. That was my profession: ex-cop,
ex-blade runner, ex-killer.
b. At the sushi bar
Sushi: thats what my ex-wife called me. Cold sh.
Blade Runners blade runners 487
c. En route to the police station
The charmers name was Ga Id seen him around. Bryant must have upped him to
the blade runner unit. That gibberish he talked was city-speak, gutter-talk: a mish-mash
of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you. I didnt really need a translator I
knew the lingo, every good cop did, but I wasnt going to make it easier for him.
d. Bryants oce
Skin jobs: thats what Bryant called replicants. In history books hes the kind of cop
used to call black men niggers.
e. En route to the Tyrell Corporation
Id quit because Id had a bellyful of killing. But then Id rather be a killer than a victim,
and thats exactly what Bryants threat about little people meant. So I hooked in once
more, thinking that if I couldnt take it Id split later. I didnt have to worry about Ga
he was brown-nosing for a promotion, so he didnt want me back anyway.
f. Leons apartment.
I didnt know whether Leon gave Holden a legit address, but it was the only lead I had,
so I checked it out.
g. Leons apartment
Whatever was in the bathtub wasnt human: replicants dont have scales. [PAUSE]. And
family photos? Replicants didnt have families either.
h. Deckards apartment
Tyrell really did a job on Rachael, right down to a snapshot of a mother she never had,
a daughter she never was. Replicants werent supposed to have feelings. Neither were
blade runners what the hell was happening to me? [LONG PAUSE] Leons pictures
had to be as phoney as Rachaels. I didnt know why a replicant would collect photos.
Maybe they were like Rachael they needed memories.
i. Street, following the retirement of Zhora
The report would be Routine retirement of a replicant, which didnt make me feel any
better about shooting a woman in the back. There it was again: feeling, in my self, for
her, for Rachael.
j. Rooftop, following Roys death
I dont know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more
than he ever had before not just his life, anybodys life, my life. All hed wanted
were the same answers the rest of us want: Where do I come from? Where am I going?
How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.
k. Deckards vehicle
Ga had been there and let her live. Four years, he gured he was wrong. Tyrell had
told me Rachael was special, no termination date. I didnt know how long we had
together who does?
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Neil Badmington (b. 1971) is a Senior Lecturer at Cardi University 3Badmington@Cardi.
ac.uk4. His research interests include cultural criticism, poststructuralism, postmodernity,
and posthumanism. His recent publications include Alien Chic: Posthumanism and the Other
Within (2004); I aint got no body: Lyotard and Le Genre of posthumanism (2007); . . . a
drowning of the human in the physical: Jonathan Franzen and the corrections of human-
ism (2007); and The Inkredible Roland Barthes (2008).
Blade Runners blade runners 489